Legislators show little transparency about their private income sources

March 29, 2018

Investigative Reports

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Senator Hugh Leatherman

By RICK BRUNDRETT

Since July 2013, the S.C. Department of Transportation has paid a total of more than $7 million to a concrete company with ties to powerful state Sen. Hugh Leatherman.

Leatherman, R-Florence and the longtime chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, was president of Florence Concrete Products Inc. when he joined the Senate in 1981 and served in that position until 1993.

In 2016 and 2017, he received an unspecified salary from the company, according to his annual income-disclosure reports – the latest of which he submitted on Tuesday – with the State Ethics Commission. In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, DOT paid Florence Concrete a collective $3.4 million, state comptroller general records shows, though those payments aren’t reflected on Leatherman’s latest disclosure reports.

Leatherman, who also is the Senate president pro tempore and a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, didn’t report on earlier disclosure forms, known as statements of economic interests (SEIs), whether he received a salary from Florence Concrete. And he didn’t have to – until the state ethics law was changed, effective last year, generally requiring lawmakers and other public officials to report their private income sources, though not amounts.

That change, first pushed in 2013 by the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization – was intended to allow the public to better monitor whether public officials have potential conflicts of interest. But the new law has a number of loopholes that prevent full transparency about officials’ private income sources, according to a Policy Council analysis last year.

In 2013, Leatherman began to report that he is a minority stockholder in Florence Concrete – just several weeks before The Nerve revealed that the company received more than $30 million in state payments between 1993 and 2013.

A sampling of the latest round of SEIs submitted by state lawmakers (the filing deadline is Friday) shows that Leatherman isn’t the only legislator who reported receiving private income with ties to state government, though the connections aren’t specified on their SEIs.

For example, Rep. David “Davey” Hiott, R-Pickens and chairman of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee, reported that he received income as co-owner of the Hiott Printing Company. State comptroller general records show that the Hiott Printing Company has received a total of $10,194 from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism since July 1, 2014, though those payments are not listed on his recent SEIs.

In an email response Wednesday to The Nerve, PRT spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said most of the purchases from the printing company were trail maps or hiker registration forms at Table Rock and Caesars Head state parks in the Upstate.

The Nerve in 2015 reported Hiott spent a total of $6,500 campaign funds in 2011 and 2012 on his printing company, and that other lawmakers spent campaign funds on his business. Hiott told The Nerve at the time he had consulted with the House Ethics Committee on those matters.

Hiott didn’t immediately respond to a message Wednesday seeking comment on his latest SEI.

Rep. John King, D-York and a member of the House Ethics and Judiciary committees, reported on his SEI that he received personal income from the private Clinton College in Rock Hill. According to his online LinkedIn account, he has been an adjunct instructor with the college since 2011.

State comptroller general records show that since July 1, 2014, Clinton College has received a total of $960,871, including $674,719 last fiscal year, through the state Commission on Higher Education. Commission records show that the allocations were pass-through funds to the college under a state budget proviso directing lottery proceeds through the “Higher Education Excellence Enhancement Program,” which provides money to colleges based on percentages of undergraduate Pell grant recipients or female enrollment.

The Clinton College allocations are not listed on King’s recent SEIs.

King’s LinkedIn account and his online legislative biography also list him as a funeral director at Christopher King’s Funeral Home in Chester. He reported that position on his 2017 SEI, though not on this year’s form.

King didn’t immediately respond to a message Wednesday left at the Chester funeral home seeking comment on his latest SEI.

As has been his longstanding practice with The Nerve, Leatherman didn’t respond to written and phone messages Wednesday seeking comment on his SEIs. The Nerve in February reported that Leatherman’s son-in-law, John Hardee of Columbia, a state DOT commissioner with ties to an advertising company that has a lucrative DOT contract, also is a paid consultant with a lobbying trade group that receives thousands of dollars annually from other public agencies.

Leatherman sat on a former legislatively controlled screening committee that nominated DOT commissioners, including Hardee. A week after The Nerve’s February story on Hardee was published, Gov. Henry McMaster announced he had appointed someone else to fill Hardee’s seat.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve. Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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